Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Not All Interactive Engagement is the Same: Variations in Physics Professors’ Implementation of "Peer Instruction"

I mentioned earlier of Griffiths' assertion of trying to sell Physics as is, and his skepticism of trying to make physics more "fun" by trying all these new gadgets in classroom instruction.

This new paper[1] reports on an investigation that is consistent with that point of view. A study of physics professors using the same "Peer Instruction" technique reveals substantial differences in outcomes. It emphasized the connection between the instructors' outlook and philosophy themselves and how it can affect what the students can gain.

Although many professors talk about Peer Instruction and its implementation similarly in interviews, we have found that there are significant differences in professors’ classroom practices that combine over time to have significant pedagogical implications. We have identified observable and quantifiable aspects of practice which vary from classroom to classroom. Prior research has shown that faculty practices are constrained more by structural considerations such as expectations of content coverage, lack of instructor time, class size, or room layout than by their beliefs about productive educational practices.31 In this investigation, we find that instructors within similar structural or situational constraints are making different instructional decisions. These results suggest the need for a more detailed account of how instructors use their knowledge of educational innovations and situational constraints to arrive at practical decisions in the moment-to-moment demands of the classroom.

What it boils down to is that, no matter what new gadgets and techniques one adopts, it still depends on the skill of the instructor. A bad instructor will still give a bad lesson, no matter what technology one uses. I think in all of the discussion on trying to improve physics instructions, especially in colleges/universities, the ability to teach by these professors hasn't been sufficiently addressed. A motivated and excellent instructor can do more with a blackboard and a chalk than all those clickers and gadgets combined. I know, because I've had a few that can blow away all of these new instruction methods.


[1] C. Turpen and N.D. Finkelstein, Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 5, 020101 (2009)

1 comment:

Dan said...

I agree that technology is not a magical fix to classroom problems, but I hope you don't disagree that its worth exploring a wide range of different techniques that can be used to improve the classroom experience. Some of the gadgets have shown a great deal of promise, but only when used thoughtfully and carefully. With further research into 'gadgets' and teaching techniques perhaps we will have more concrete advice to give instructors who are having difficulties engaging their classes than "be more excellent with your blackboard and chalk."